It can destroy us, or it can help us relate to our fellow alcoholic
I AM THE lucky one, enjoying an incredible vacation high up in the Alps, surrounded by snowcapped mountains, flowering meadows, and crystal-clear brooks. The gift of unrushed thinking, of meditation, presents itself in such an environment. It brings happiness and peace within. And Alcoholics Anonymous is often the strong center of this process.
When I finally came to our Fellowship, during June 1945, grasping at anything, in total defeat, I heard for the first time the description of alcoholism as a sickness, a disease. The result was elation for me and my wife, who accompanied me to my meetings. The stigma of moral depravity and the resulting guilt had instantly been lifted.
But I recall a period of increasing unhappiness after some four or five months in AA. In retrospect, I believe it was caused by the natural process of unnoticed growth, which seemed to sharpen my sensitivity toward my personality imperfections and deficiencies. I had to learn to forgive myself and to accept myself as a mixture of good and bad. During this period, I lost my protective strength against guilt and self-accusation concerning my past–the strength which the knowledge of alcoholism as an illness had provided at the beginning of my AA journey. It seemed as if the label of “sickness” I had pasted over the accusing word “guilt” had peeled off or eroded and the old discomfort had returned. However, I did not slip, because I could hold on to the untold other discoveries of spiritual riches which had come my way.
One day, I made a Twelfth Step call which turned out to be a complete success. The fellow was ready and wanted what we had–the message, the hope, the friendship, the freedom. On my way home, a truth hit me like lightning: Whatever it was that I had contributed to his recovery, it was based exclusively upon that alcoholic past of mine, for which I was suffering useless, frustrating guilt. Deep within me, I understood that my negative, destructive, ugly past as a compulsive drinker had been transformed into a tool–perhaps the only tool–to help release a fellowman from his own bonds.
This experience is possibly the most important one I can remember, because of what it taught me. I have since come to believe in miracles. The transformation which took place, as I have tried to describe it, appears to me as miraculous as the change of water to wine at the wedding at Cana. I believe that I understand now the meaning of grace as a gift bestowed upon someone who does not deserve it, or thinks he does not deserve it. And finally, the formerly hackneyed expression “blessings in disguise” has taken on a completely realistic meaning.
The feeling of guilt over past events is probably known to a great many of us AAs. It is for this reason that I wanted to share its mutation through grace in AA, as it happened to me. I also believe that guilt is a cunning weapon in the armory of the drunk who lives on inside each of us; it can be used in an attempt to convince us that AA does not work.
These thoughts, so meaningful to me, have again passed through me while I experienced a happy hour spent in one of earth’s most beautiful spots. I am reminded to be grateful to God and to AA and to remember the darkness from which I emerged when I found both.